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How to Plan Your Career Search

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There are few other major search strategies, and each can be used at any time during the job-changing process:

  • Contact "target firms" of potential interest.

  • Reply to position available listings in newspapers, association and university publications, etc.

  • Contact Target Firms
No matter how extensive your list of personal contacts, or how adept you become at networking, you simply won't be able to meet decision makers at every firm you find appealing. What is the next best alternative? Write directly to the firms, sending a one-page cover letter and your resume. Be sure to say why you're leaving (keep it positive) and outline your career objectives. Other important elements:
  • Value Statement-although a well-prepared resume outlines responsibilities and accomplishments, a one-paragraph synopsis of your value to the prospective employer in the cover letter serves as a "grabber." After all, the foremost question in the prospective employer's mind is "What can this person do for me?" If the cover letter doesn't stimulate adequate interest, the resume may never get read.

  • Compensation-salary, bonus, and "soft dollar" compensation (stock options, etc.) don't all have to be mentioned in the cover letter. Simply stating your compensation range over the last several years, however, gives the reader insight into your affordability. Omitting this information, however, risks their assuming your financial profile is out of sync with their structure.

  • Call for Action-put the ball in their court by asking them to contact you (the soft sell), or risk being called pushy (not all bad) by saying you'll be calling soon for an appointment.
  • Differentiation-as with networking, writing to target firms enables you to present your unique credentials to the decision-maker of your choice. Assuming your contact actually reads the cover letter/resume. Most do.

  • No Competition-while any given target firm, at any given time, probably isn't in a position to hire you, you're not competing with others. The advantage is getting your foot in the door before a recruiter is given a search assignment or before the firm decides to run a position available ad in a newspaper.

  • Selectivity-you can write to whomever you choose and at any time. If the initial mailing is rejected or unanswered, the option is always open to contact the same individual at a later date or, if appropriate, another decision maker.

  • Not Read-there is no guarantee your recipient will actually read your letter and resume and there are no absolute antidotes for this problem, but two tactics can minimize your being ignored.
First, you always have the option of making a follow-up phone call within 30 days of the mailing.

Second, writing to executives just below the top echelon, i.e., those who don't appear on every mailing list may get attention simply because there in baskets aren't as filled as those of the target firm's chairman, president, and C.F.O.
  • Timing/Volume-There is no way to anticipate which target firms may have a need for your services as you undertake a mailing campaign, so the remedy is to generate volume. Target firm letters result in interviews less than five percent of the time and, unless your function is in high demand, and unless your credentials and accomplishments are impeccable. The number is closer to one-two percent.

  • Getting an interview is not the same as getting a job offer. Figure that, at least, approximately 6-10 interviews are necessary to generate one or two offers. All these numbers suggest it will take a target firm letter campaign of about 1,000 to materialize in only a few offers, and that's if you stay in your career field. If a career field switch is attempted, plan on boosting the number of letters to 2,000-3,000.

  • Shelf Life-Target firm letters customarily have a very short shelf life. Either your recipient is interested or not.

  • Geography-overcoming the timing problem is hard enough to do without superimposing the geographical barrier, but there are two ways to minimize this difficulty. First, focus out-of-town target firm letters on your current employer's direct competitors, those organizations which presumably would have the most interest in your specific industry experience. Second, assuming you want to relocate to a specific city, evaluate whether your interest is strong enough to warrant you are paying the associated travel expenses.\
  • Reply To Position Listings
Position listings tend to be discounted, as if answering an ad is an admission we're looking for a new job (which we are) or replying to an ad is beneath our dignity (which it's not). If those two psychological barriers can be surpassed, the third bias, "It doesn't work," is a favorite of many, and is equally invalid. The fact is, position listings do work. Admittedly, this major strategy may not be as sophisticated, market research-oriented or "refined" as the other three, but its unsexy nature shouldn't disguise the probability that, comparing effort expended vs. results, answering ads holds its own. Three primary sources to consult for position listings:
  • The Wall Street Journal-especially Tuesdays. If you're interested in nationwide listings, the WSJ also publishes aggregated positions available in its National Business Employment Weekly.

  • Local Newspapers-Particularly in large metropolitan areas, position listings appear daily. Sunday editions usually feature the largest number of these advertisements.

  • Other-Certain professional and trade organizations, as well as some colleges/universities, publish position listings in periodic magazines and newsletters. Not all do, of course, but it's worth investigating.

  • Easy-an ad response is relatively easy and doesn't absorb a lot of time.

  • Timing/Defined Need-by its very placement, a position listing announces a defined staffing need and a need now. No mass mailings to target firms or executive recruiters here. No time-consuming hours in arranging and meeting network contacts either. If you believe a "fit" exists, a single mail piece and a trip to the nearest mailbox is all it takes.
  • Competition-Face it. This strategy screams for competition. But if your functional qualifications, industry experience and salary are compatible with the specifications presented in the ad, you may find the competition isn't so stiff after all.

  • Singular Transaction-of the major search strategies, responding to a position listing typically has the shortest shelf life. In fact, it's probably fair to say there is no shelf life: your reply is either classified a "go" or "no go."

  • There is no magic formula for changing employers effectively. But, pursuing each of the major career search strategies, combined with persevering hard work, luck, and faith, will make the process less imperfect.

  • There are few major search strategies, and each can be used at any time during the job-changing process:

  • A former job search candidate and wrote this article from his own experience.

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